Disclaimer: My husband is a saint. While I did ask Tom’s permission to recount the following story to all of you… if you ever meet him, please thank him for his willingness to submit himself frequently to my weekly messages and for contributing greatly to our continued mutual and communal learning. Some weeks, it just has to be hard to be married to a communication coach! 😊
When we lived at Twin Creek Ranch, there was an 80-acre parcel behind us whose only access from the highway was a deeded easement down our long driveway. For the 15 years I lived there, it was never a problem. The property had a sweet little cottage down by the creek which was owned by a now elderly couple for over 50 years. They used it as a quiet getaway on a handful of weekends throughout the year. When they came, they would creep slowly down our driveway, never wanting to disturb us and always stopping by to say hello so we would know that they were back there. We wouldn’t hear another peep until they drove back out again a few days later. We always kept a watchful eye on their place when they weren’t there and gave them a key and access code to the front gate so it would be easy for them to enter whenever they wanted. It was a beautiful arrangement.
That was until about a year before we sold the ranch. The wife of the couple had passed away and her husband decided to sell the property. Priced well, it was snatched up quickly by a gentleman named Tony who turned out to be a big LA developer. While he wasn’t developing the property for private homes, he did decide to turn it into a family development of sorts with enough buildings to house his large, extended family every weekend. Overnight, our private driveway through the ranch became a freeway of construction workers, dump trucks, delivery vans, backhoes, cranes, and other large equipment during the week. When the week was over, workers were replaced by carloads of family members ready to party all weekend.
Because of the year-round beautiful weather in Southern California, we were accustomed to reading, relaxing, and eating most of our meals on our long, covered porches which looked out over our driveway toward an amazing view of the surrounding mountains and long, green valley. As our peaceful personal sanctuary was turned upside down, our hearts broke, and we began to accept that life at the ranch would likely never be quite the same again.
After about a month of trying to speak to the individuals coming and going, Tom decided he had had quite enough of what he viewed as amazing disregard and disrespect for our personal property. He marched in one day and said he was going to call the owner and demand that he control the traffic on our property, including the unsafe speeds at which everyone drove, the hours they came and went, and the number of people who were being given our private gate code. To say he was angry and frustrated would have been an understatement, and I really couldn’t argue with any of his complaints. They were valid expectations.
Of course, we talked through how he could facilitate the most productive Courageous Conversation with Tony, and by the time he got him on the phone, Tom was prepped and ready. We were in the car together, and I was able to listen on the speakerphone as the conversation unfolded. Tony was cordial and polite, and he and Tom exchanged pleasantries before Tony finally asked, “What can I do for you today, Tom?”
I fully anticipated that Tom would simply run through his requests and then wait to see how Tony would respond. But instead, like so often happens to all of us, his primitive emotions snuck right up and without warning highjacked his executive brain. Instead of calmly stating what he actually wanted, in a millisecond his intellect lost the battle to his amygdala’s need to vent its heightened, long-ignored emotions. In that moment, more than a resolution, he wanted Tony to hear, feel, and understand his frustration, annoyance, and what he viewed as an egregious violation of his personal space, privacy, and rights.
I was caught completely off guard and silently mouthed to Tom… “Tell. Him. What. You. Want.” But when emotions are in control, logic takes a backseat. To Tony’s credit, he heard Tom out and then said, “I understand, Tom. What is it exactly that you want?” At that moment, I watched Tom’s brain switch gears. He stated clearly what he wanted from Tony… just like we practiced. And Tony responded with, “Sounds perfectly reasonable. No problem. I’ll take care of it right away.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Oh, give Tom a break. He got out what he needed to say, and it all worked out fine. So what’s the problem?”
The problem is that it wasn’t that simple—far from it. And because I was not the one on the hot seat and was watching from a somewhat emotionally-detached position, what happened next was proof positive of the power of our emotions and our need to be fully understood. After a moment of letting Tony’s swift agreement sink in, Tom replied, “Well, good. Because its only right. I mean it has really been completely unacceptable the way things have been going. It has been unsafe and disrespectful and…” As he continued to relentlessly recount, yet again, his frustrations about the lack of respect and unfair actions, I know my mouth must have been hanging wide open. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Tony had just agreed to all of Tom’s requests, in full. And yet Tom still persisted in rehashing how violated he felt. Emotions are a powerful, powerful force.
Afterwards, we talked about what happened and we both learned some valuable lessons which I teach every time I train on Courageous Conversations now:
- What do you want? The more we know what we don’t want, the more we know what we do want. However, it often feels better to us to state what we don’t want and rehash the past than to state clearly what we do want and create a new future. So be sure to focus your attention and intention on what you want.
- Emotions versus Logic: Separating how you feel from what you want is an important consideration as you prepare for a Courageous Conversation. If you are on the receiving end of a Courageous Conversation, be sure to help the person who is initiating it to separate their feelings from their requests. Help them feel understood emotionally and then clarify what needs to happen logically to ensure a better future.
Put these tools firmly in your Courageous Conversations toolbelt and watch how much better and quicker you actually get what you wanted all along.
“The first step to getting what you want is having the courage to get rid of what you don’t.”